A north-west NHS body has introduced a 24-hour remote stroke diagnosis service to help save lives and also alleviate the damage caused by sufferers.

NHS Cumbria and Lancashire has launched the Telestroke Network to provide an out-of-hours stroke thrombolysis service, the first time the 2.2 million population in the region has been covered by such a service.

Prior to implementation, each of the eight hospital sites involved only had a 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday stroke thrombolysis service available. NHS Cumbria and Lancashire therefore went to Virgin Media Business to set up the 24-hour network, to improve care for patients showing signs of a stroke, to deliver quick treatment with the best chance of recovery.

With 4,000 people across Cumbria and Lancashire suffering a stroke every year, the IP virtual private network (IPVPN) is designed to allow doctors to prescribe specialist medication earlier, reducing long-lasting side effects and saving lives.

To counter symptoms of the stroke and reduce the chances of long-lasting damage, patients need to receive the specialist clot-busting agent thrombolysis as soon as possible. Thrombolysis treatment can only be given to patients within four and a half hours of the onset of their stroke, so Telestroke will help improve the speed of patient diagnosis

A secure remote video diagnosis service has been set up to bring specialist care and virtual consultations to patient’s bedsides, even if the doctor is on the other side of the county.

Through a secure router in the consultant’s home, the doctor links up with a live video and audio conference system in the hospital, where they can see and speak to the patient. The consultant can then ask the patient questions and perform an examination with the help of the local team to decide whether the symptoms have been due to a stroke, and whether thrombolysis treatment is appropriate.

Dr Mark O’Donnell, stroke consultant at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and clinical lead for the network, said: “We are using this technology to take the stroke specialists to the patient, rather than moving the patient long distances, around rural areas, to where the specialists work. In an acute stroke, time is of the essence and the sooner treatments can be provided the better.”

Cumbria and Lancashire NHS estimates that using Telestroke will save the lives of 24 more patients a year, and that 40 more are expected to recover with no symptoms or significant disabilities, and also 30 less patients will require full-time care.

In addition to patient benefits the service is also expected to save the NHS over £8 million a year, with the cost of after-stroke care expected "to dramatically reduce".

The government claims it can save £1.2 billion over five years through the wider use of telecare technology.